COQUINA BEACH, Fla. – The smell comes first, uncomfortable at best and gag-inducing at worst. Then there’s a small tickle in the back of the throat that won’t go away.
But it is the dead fish that is the true mark of the red tide. On Wednesday at Coquina Beach, south of St. Petersburg, Fla., bodies were scattered on the shore in small clumps.
“Smell, dead fish, it’s gross,” said Angie Hampton, 54, who was on vacation from Indiana.
This has been the case on the beaches of the Tampa Bay area and much of southwest Florida throughout the summer, where harmful algae blooms known as red tides have killed more than 600 tons of marine life, according to local authorities. Some of it was pushed over the edge by Tropical Storm Elsa two weeks ago.
“This is unusual for Tampa Bay,” said Kate Hubbard, a research scientist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a bloom of this magnitude.”
In recent times the situation has really started to improve somewhat. A week earlier, the bacteria in parts of Tampa Bay were 10 to 17 times higher than the concentrations considered “high.” Pinellas County. Officials said red tide at that level “could cause significant respiratory problems in people as well as fish deaths.”
Algal blooms are a natural phenomenon, but pollution and climate change are both making them worse. After this spring was detected from a major wastewater reservoir at Pine Point, south of Tampa, scientists warned that a significant red tide could be the result.
And although it is difficult to attribute individual events to climate change, research on University of Florida suggests that warming of the oceans will make red tides more frequent and damaging. “It,” declared an editorial in Tampa Bay Times Last week, “Smells like climate change.”